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NSA General Counsel Insists US Companies Assisted In Data Collection 103

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the he-said-she-said dept.
Related to yesterday's story about the NSA, Advocatus Diaboli (1627651) writes with this excerpt from The Guardian: "Rajesh De, the NSA general counsel, said all communications content and associated metadata harvested by the NSA under a 2008 surveillance law occurred with the knowledge of the companies – both for the internet collection program known as Prism and for the so-called 'upstream' collection of communications moving across the Internet. ... nearly all the companies listed as participating in the program – Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL – claimed they did not know about a surveillance practice described as giving NSA vast access to their customers’ data. Some, like Apple, said they had 'never heard' the term Prism. De explained: 'Prism was an internal government term that as the result of leaks became the public term,' De said. 'Collection under this program was a compulsory legal process, that any recipient company would receive.'"
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NSA General Counsel Insists US Companies Assisted In Data Collection

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  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:22PM (#46536697)

    The Feds kept the receipts!

    When Apple said they'd never heard of Prism, they were using lawyer-speak to conflate not knowing the official program name with not knowing the program existed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Yes, exactly. But not just Apple, by any means. Apple, AT&T, Comcast, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

      They've all been using Orwellian doublespeak, implying they had no knowledge at all by claiming they had no knowledge of a tiny, specific thing.

      Traitors, the lot of them.

      Let's all remember that treason is not disobeying your government, it is betraying your country and your people.
      • At least until you need a new iphone/ipad - then you can conveniently forget this ever happen.

        Because lets all be perfectly honest here: this is what 99.99999999% of people making such claims are going to do.
      • Traitors, the lot of them.

        Unfortunately, there are multiple ways of finding the 'traitor' here...

        I seem to recall Yahoo's CEO saying something along the lines of "If I discuss government surveillance programs, I go to prison as a traitor; if I don't comply with them, I'm also a traitor." (obviously paraphrased)

        So if you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't, I'd go with the one that doesn't involve a very public slam-dunk federal crime.

        This is especially true with our current legislature (both houses, all parties), as well as

        • by Arker (91948)
          Except that the programs they are running go far beyond even what the Patriot Act authorizes. So if they wont obey the Patriot Act, why do you think they will obey a new law they like less?
        • You have hit the nail on the head. This program was approved by the Executive, Legislative, and Legal branches of the government. I understand folks do not agree but it is the law. Just because you disagree with the law does that mean you can release information to enemies of the United States?
          • No, Constitutionally, it is not law.

            As Jefferson said: a law that oversteps the Constitution is null and void, and of no force. It is not a law.

            And he was right. Since the Federal government derives its power from the Constitution, any legislation that violates that Constitution is by definition not a real law. Any attempt to enforceme an extra-Constitutional law is also pretty much by definition treason... according to the government's own logic.
        • I seem to recall Yahoo's CEO saying something along the lines of "If I discuss government surveillance programs, I go to prison as a traitor; if I don't comply with them, I'm also a traitor."

          Except that this is using government's definition of "traitor", which means doing whatever it doesn't like. That's not a valid definition.

          From the dictionary:

          "Treason noun the offense of acting to overthrow one's government or to harm or kill its sovereign. "

          The problem here being that our government is the Constitution, and in the United States, it is The People who are defined as sovereign.

          So when the Feds violate the Constitution, they are committing treason, because they are violating the law and betraying their sovereign.

          Saying that obeying an unconstitutional "law" is treason is the worst po

      • by Frobnicator (565869) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @05:03PM (#46538215) Journal

        To be fair, they were 'compulsory legal process', and almost certainly were accompanied by gag orders that have not been rescinded.

        There are many kinds of domestic spying, referred to by their section of law. You've got 501, 1806, 1825, and 1845. All four can be used with gag orders. The ISP is basically forced to install hardware. They can chose to let the government do everything (and get paid for resources used), or install a tap themselves so the government can use it (and charge for resources used), or fight it (the tap still gets installed, but they don't get paid for resources used.)

        Most of these come with gag orders: If you say anything, even hint that you might have known was was going on, and you risk violating the gag order.

        There are very few business owners who have said anything about the process. Everyone should read Pete Ashdown's account [buzzfeed.com]. (He founded a major ISP in 1993, has run for senate, etc.) He describes receiving a FISA order, not being allowed to take notes or other details. Unlike most companies, he decided to isolate the customer's virtual machine to a single dedicated box, and then put the court-ordered recording box on that one specific box.

        In the article he spends three paragraphs describing what the did, ending with "I can’t tell you all the details about it. I would love to tell you all the details, but I did get the gag order. I have probably told people too much. That was two years ago. If they want to come back and haunt me, fine.

        When these executives are getting potentially a few dozen to a few hundred of these requests that include a gag order. None have revealed as much as Ashdown did in those few paragraphs, other than to say in corporate reports that they have received 0-999 such orders.

      • by Garridan (597129)

        And look at you, buying into the government's blame-shifting. This is the opposite of Nuremberg -- don't blame us, we were only giving orders! Blame the eeeevil companies that did the deed, not the innocent government who merely demanded compliance with threat of imprisonment or worse, fines!

        • "And look at you, buying into the government's blame-shifting."

          Huh? Where did you get that idea? Certainly not from anything I wrote.

          I definitely DO blame them. They know better. They've just pretended not to. That was part of my point.

      • The Department of Justice and Courts have reviewed procedures and warrants for the program. Congress has authorized the program many times over. Presidents are familiar with the program. Can you count to three? Executive, Legislative, Courts. All of these groups were aware and gave their approval. Who might I ask is the traitor in this scenario?
    • The question is, which liars lies are the most believable? Is there a choice where they are all lying?
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        The question is, which liars lies are the most believable? Is there a choice where they are all lying?

        At least the ones who had threat of breaking secret Federal laws prohibiting them from telling the truth have an excuse.

        Sure, they lied to us. But they'd been told by the feds that if they didn't, they'd be charged under secret laws and dropped into a deep, dark hole.

        The people who got the ability, and subsequently used that ability, to force companies into collecting this information and lying to the publ

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          At least the ones who had threat of breaking secret Federal laws prohibiting them from telling the truth have an excuse.

          Sure, they lied to us. But they'd been told by the feds that if they didn't, they'd be charged under secret laws and dropped into a deep, dark hole.

          I wonder how the SEC and FTC will feel about materially false statements.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            I wonder how the SEC and FTC will feel about materially false statements.

            Good question ... but if you found yourself in this position where one department of the government said you must lie and the other said you must tell the truth ... wouldn't you more or less tell the judge to tell you which of the two contradictory laws you should have followed?

            I'm betting the secret courts and terrorism investigation (or, at least that's how they justify it) trumps the SEC and the FTC. Of course, if the people with t

        • Does the government need to obtain a warrant to obtain this information? My impression in reading news articles is that they must get warrants. If they must get warrants does this change the situation?
        • >> But they'd been told by the feds that if they didn't, they'd be charged under secret laws and dropped into a deep, dark hole

          I'm pretty sure that if Steve Jobs was around and if the damage to Apple's reputation outvalued their good relationship with government then he would find a morally justifiable solution.

    • by gnasher719 (869701) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:51PM (#46537019)

      When Apple said they'd never heard of Prism, they were using lawyer-speak to conflate not knowing the official program name with not knowing the program existed.

      People like you are the reason why the NSA is spreading this nonsense. To deflect any anger from themselves to these companies, like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple. Because they _know_ that there are plenty of fanboys who put all the blame on Apple, or put all the blame on Google, or on Microsoft, and then the other fanboys say that Apple is innocent and Google is evil, or Google is innocent and Apple is evil, and Microsoft is evil anyway, and everyone forgets about the NSA.

      Fact is, the NSA are lying and spying scumbags. Fact is, there is no evidence that anyone supported them knowingly or willingly. The only indication that someone did is the word of the lying and spying scumbags.

      • Perhaps, but if you try to shift the blame and throw company X under the bus while doing so, watch how much cooperation you get from that company in the future. ( assuming the whole thing isn't a comete sham )

        While company X isn't allowed to discuss anything related to the gag orders, I would simply leak the entire thing out to ( insert some torrent site here ) and blame it on bad security, some zero day exploit at the hands of some evil hacker.

        Technically, they DIDN'T discuss it, the data was stolen from
    • Maybe I put on a tinfoil hat this morning without realizing it, but I don't understand how this makes any sense at all, in the context of what was on the slides that first revealed PRISM to the world [wordpress.com]. If the program only involved sending out demands that companies have no choice but to follow, then there's nothing notable about when "PRISM collection began for each provider" (to quote the slides). All that date would be is the date that each company received their first demand from the government under this

    • The program was classified so there's no way in hell they would have known the program under which they were compelled to provide information is called prism. It's not lawyer, speak it's common sense. Additionally, Apple and the other companies mentioned have openly stated they had been compelled by court order to provide information about specific users. TL;DR: There's no smoking gun here.

  • Taking bets here.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OzPeter (195038) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:23PM (#46536703)

    The first rule of NSA data collection is that you don't mention NSA data collection or the NSA .. ever.

    Unless you want to be tried by a secret court and end up somewhere you really don't want to be.

    • by poetmatt (793785) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:34PM (#46536819) Journal

      What I find is hilarious is that "being forced to comply" is considered "assisting".

      Apparently when your only choice is jail or compliance, somehow you're assisting in the process.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        What I find is hilarious is that "being forced to comply" is considered "assisting".

        Aint double-speak grand?

        Papers please comrade, and thank you for your 'voluntary' compliance -- we will stop pointing guns at you for the time being.

        Time was, this kind of thing would have caused outrage in the US. Now it's just considered normal, and something to be accepted.

        Orwell and Huxley had nothing on what's really happening.

      • by ripvlan (2609033)

        Yeah - that was my first thought. Kind of like when a bully is beating a weak kid with his own arms. "he was hitting himself"

        Wasn't that the definition of "the letter" - the one that companies aren't allowed to acknowledge they received?! Maybe they aren't allowed to even say that they heard of the program.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        Apparently when your only choice is jail or compliance, somehow you're assisting in the process.

        "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing."

        This is why we have whistle blower laws.
        It's why the Nuremberg Principles declare that 'just following orders' is not a defense when a moral option is possible (with the implication that its unpleasantness is irrelevant).

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        What I find is hilarious is that "being forced to comply" is considered "assisting".

        Apparently when your only choice is jail or compliance, somehow you're assisting in the process.

        If you choose between being a traitor and going to jail, and you choose being a traitor, you still deserve to be hanged from the neck until dead.

        • by Khashishi (775369)

          We should see how you behave in that situation, drinkypoo.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            We should see how you behave in that situation, drinkypoo.

            You never will, because someone like me would never be permitted to become that powerful. I am not one of those born privileged, and my ideals conflict with theirs too strongly to be permitted to become privileged.

            • Are you saying that you can never see yourself, say, hired by Google?

              • You think the rank-and-file at Google knew anything about what the NSA wanted? Or any of the other companies, for that matter. The actual secret order was undoubtedly seen only by C-level executives and higher. The peons weren't told a thing about what the random extra piece of equipment was for, and most of the peons never knew there was an extra piece of equipment sitting in the datacenter.

                Those of us with ideals that conflict with the privileged do not get to become C-level executives of billion dolla

                • Some rank-and-file probably did. Or, at least, were given enough information to strongly suspect - it doesn't take the "actual secret order" to figure out that you're running and administering a system that's wiretapping and archiving communications.

                  • by drinkypoo (153816)

                    Some of them always know because at the end, there's always a peon involved.

                    One person I know who worked for an ISP actually had to hand an FBI agent a fucking cdrom weekly with traffic logs to comply with a monitoring request, one of those ones you can't tell the customer about. You don't think a CEO is going to do anything menial...

                    • Yup, that was my point exactly.

                      The problem is that it's not really limited to big corps. If you're in any way related to the business of transferring data that those guys are interested in - say, even a small local ISP - you can end up being that appointed peon, and then the choice is very direct and acute for you.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                Are you saying that you can never see yourself, say, hired by Google?

                Probably not. I've spoken out against the creation of monolithic points of control, before. The internet will have to become more distributed if it is to be anything other than a boot on our necks, and that goes for services like search as well.

            • by poetmatt (793785)

              This is hilarious. You don't have to be born powerful to be in those situations. In fact, it's likely the small fry at companies who are targeted. Other NSA ops seem to confirm this. You're just confirming that you would be a target.

              See, ain't this shit grand?

      • So what happens if one of these big companies say FU and refuse to let NSA in. As soon as a warrant, raid or somebody is jailed then the "secret program" is out of the bag. These companies need to grow a pair.
        • NSA Agent Smith: "Mr. Trail at Google refused our NSL. You can find a dozen kilos of cocaine in his car trunk, right?"
          Local Sheriff: "Sure thing."
          DEA Agent: "You got it."

          How many people are going to believe that a drug dealer was targeted because of a refusal to honour a government data request, even if the target publicizes as much? For that matter, how many of those arrested and accused of dealing drugs are even granted a media interview?

  • by bussdriver (620565) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:24PM (#46536715)

    They likely would have been charged as traitors for admitting the whole thing... The legal agreement must say something about keeping silent and that would STILL be in effect to this day as long as the legal agreement is still active.

    • In some cases but I suspect many to be in the government's good books for when they apply for contracts.
    • by swan5566 (1771176)
      But the NSA would be free to mention that fact and thus explain away their denial. But, they didn't.
      • by OzPeter (195038)

        But the NSA would be free to mention that fact and thus explain away their denial. But, they didn't.

        What? And rob the NSA of the chance to say in public "See .. we aren't really that bad. And all those other companies were complicit with what we are doing".

        It sounds like a classic deflection move by the NSA to try and move the conversation away from themselves.

  • Who thinks the NSA has to explain this to us carefully? The major concern of these big companies is their next buck.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Let's not forget that the NSA is the root of much of the evil in the us government right now.

      I'm sure most of the companies other than AT&T only participated because they were forced to. And I'm sure it's true the NSA tapped into the cables between data centers.

      Remember, who are we 100% sure lies to congress and the American people? The NSA. Who are we 100% sure uses double talk to try to blame others are mislead? The NSA.

      Any it's the evil company's, not the NSA posts are probably posted by paid NSA

      • by KillDaBOB (206494)

        Yes, there are pieces of equipment hooked up between the different networks of ISPs. I recently (a week ago) sent my ISP a complaint that a router between them and another large ISP would sometimes start to increase in latency 2x-3x the normal when crossing over to the other ISPs network. They sent me a reply that this issue can't be resolved because the particular piece of hardware that is causing intermediate problems is owned by the military. Now, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that military c

    • Liars lie. Professional liars lie professionally. A professional lie can be hard to refute.
  • Weasel Words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PineHall (206441) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:38PM (#46536879)

    After the hearing, De added that service providers also know and receive legal compulsions surrounding NSA’s harvesting of communications data not from companies but directly in transit across the internet under 702 authority.

    And

    De and his administration colleagues were quick to answer the board that companies were aware of the government’s collection of data under 702, which Robert Litt, general counsel for the director of national intelligence, told the board was “one of the most valuable collection tools that we have.”

    But what was not said was

    Neither De nor any other US official discussed data taken from the internet under different legal authorities. Different documents Snowden disclosed, published by the Washington Post, indicated that NSA takes data as it transits between Yahoo and Google data centers, an activity reportedly conducted not under Section 702 but under a seminal executive order known as 12333.

    So they did not lie but they did not tell the whole truth either.

    • No, they lied to. When people read this stuff I keep getting the impression they feel like they at the end of the conspiracy movie where everything is revealed. This is a very very long movie... we aren't anywhere near the end. Assume everything you hear is a lie and you'll probably be closer to the truth.

  • by Mysticode (696150) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:41PM (#46536907)
    This sounds like the NSA is trying to redirect some of the negative attention they have received from this elsewhere. Although that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't true.
  • I'm sure that the big providers did know (or looked the other way and pretended not to know) about the data collection either under an implied or explicit threat that the data collection project was to remain absolutely secret under penalty of law. It's unlikely that the NSA spent the time and money to reverse-engineer (and continually update) whatever protocol Google uses to back up customer data across datacenters to let them effectively snoop that data -- without Google's help there's too much danger of

  • their ass kissing, brown nosing, corporate crime profiteering shit. in the name of reducing liability for damages if the people sue back! and so far the public has not sued back, which they should because we can maybe overthrow some of these monopolies, make some money, and send them into bankruptcy. at which point, we rebuild without their shit.

    The occupy movement should in fact focus it's strategy exclusively on legal action against the corporations and the government to undo all the harm they've done, an

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @02:58PM (#46537095) Homepage

    Of course American companies cooperated. What exactly were they supposed to do?

    "Nice company you've got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it."

    It would have been nice if someone would have shown some spine here. However, the fact that no one had the balls to stand up to the NSA really doesn't get them off the hook for anything.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @03:23PM (#46537321) Homepage

      It would have been nice if someone would have shown some spine here.

      How do you know they didn't? Did some front-line tech guy say "no fucking way" only to be dragged off under a secret warrant?

      However, the fact that no one had the balls to stand up to the NSA really doesn't get them off the hook for anything.

      Indeed, I view this as the legal equivalent of saying that once you'd cocked the hammer on the gun and your rape victim stopped struggling she was a "voluntary participant".

      "Why yes your honor, we did threaten the accused, but once he realized we might throw him off the roof he confessed" used to be the poisoned fruit, now it's Standard Procedure for the government agencies.

      A government which works in secret and through intimidation under secret laws has ceased to be just, and will only get worse.

    • by Jawnn (445279) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @03:30PM (#46537399)

      It would have been nice if someone would have shown some spine here. However, the fact that no one had the balls to stand up to the NSA really doesn't get them off the hook for anything.

      I beg to differ... QWest did exactly that. Who's QWest, you say? Now, you're getting it.

      • by KillDaBOB (206494)

        qwest was bought out by CenturyTel (now known as CenturyLink). there is no conspiracy theory about what happened to them...

  • Of course we believe you.

    Because your reputation for truth and veracity is so well established. Why you would never think of lying to the public. You treat us almost as well as you treat Congress :D

  • For once the NSA tells the truth! I never thought I'd see the day. Must be that "transparency" thing the president was talking about.

  • They do it the same way the president does it. They don't tell the press secretary anything... then he can say "We aren't aware of anything like that!" and maybe even the president doesn't directly know... but 1 guy knows... the guy in regulatory compliance... or the corporate lawyer. Of course, that person doesn't go out in public to discuss it so they can never actually called out as liars. But we all know the truth.

  • NSA should NOT be taking this public. It is bad enough that Snowden is a traitor, but NSA needs to SHUT UP.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday March 20, 2014 @03:53PM (#46537587)

    1. It seems to me that the credibility of the NSA is such that I don't believe much if anything they say. As such I am going to disbelieve this until substantial evidence supporting it is presented.

    2. Even if it is true, the fact that many NSA data gathering programs are accompanied by gag orders and other secrecy requirements there is no particular reason for me to believe that the cooperation of the companies was at all voluntary and they could disclose what was happening to my data without peril of extreme and secret legal penalties.

    So all in all this is a completely ridiculous thing for him to say, and it has no particular utility for the general public even if it were absolutely true.

  • Who is talking? A lawyer!

    Anyone getting a NSL K N O W S about it but goes to jail if s/he talks about it.

  • What they knew is beside the point; they were legally obligated to disavow any knowledge of these programs. Even once they'd already been disclosed.

    The silver lining to this was it allowed these companies to deflect anger onto the NSA. Good, because the NSA are the ones to blame, I might not like what MS, Apple, etc were doing, but I can't blame them for it. Responsibility for this fucking mess lies foremost with the state spying agencies, specifically the NSA.

  • I worked at the NSA a couple years and saw Vint Cerf talk at a meeting at the NSA in 2009. Cerf was being asked for his opinion on using hadoop at the NSA. One thing he did say was that he was there as a salesman, to sell google products to the NSA. Also the google tech talk "The Secret History of Silicon Valley" is illuminating. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • I worked at the NSA a couple years and saw Vint Cerf talk at a meeting at the NSA in 2009. Cerf was being asked for his opinion on using hadoop at the NSA. One thing he did say was that he was there as a salesman, to sell google products to the NSA. Also the google tech talk "The Secret History of Silicon Valley" is illuminating. https://www.youtube.com/watch [youtube.com]?... [youtube.com]
  • If the statement in TFA was true, I would have heard of the program. But I didn't.

    Another case of the NSA lying.

  • The idea that private companies would voluntarily take on the expense and risk of giving their customer data to the NSA is ridiculous. Whatever "cooperation" the NSA got from companies must have involved legal and other threats by the NSA both to comply with their demands and to keep silent about it.

  • The program in question on this thread targeted foreign governments, terrorists, etc. The Supreme Court has ruled that the 4th amendment protects US citizens home and abroad BUT only foreign nationals inside of the United States (http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2819&context=flr) The government has strong legal grounds for the program and procedures of due process and oversight.

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